With another ten years (1976-1986) of Warhol’s paintings to document before it’s completed, here are the positives, the negatives, and the controversies — so far – By Richard Polsky
With the ultimate demise of the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, art dealer Richard Polsky steps in to fill the void
The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, nothing short of a Sisyphean task to compile, is one of the outstanding examples of its genre. Originally inspired by the Swiss dealer Thomas Ammann, it has been primarily assembled by Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero — who deserve kudos along with its publisher Phaidon. This multi-volume reference book of paintings and sculpture extends from 1961 to the year 1976 (1976-1978 is in preparation). Since Warhol made art through 1986, that means there is a decade’s worth of material to go. In addition, when the final volume is completed, there might be an addendum which will include paintings originally overlooked.
As an art authenticator, I frequently consult its pages. I continually marvel at its extensive details and high-quality reproductions. The catalogue has extended my knowledge of Warhol’s work. It’s always reassuring when its facts corroborate my own research — or force me to reconsider my position. I cannot imagine how difficult my job would be if the Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné didn’t exist.
That is not to say the catalogue is without its flaws. Due partially to its philosophy of what constitutes a genuine Warhol, there are numerous omissions. Conversely, there are a number of mystifying inclusions. Among this group are several paintings that were never finished by Warhol. There is a multi-image “Marilyn” vertical strip that appears to have been cut from a larger painting. There is even a large pink and red multi-panel portrait of the sculptor John Chamberlain, which subsequently proved to be a fraud perpetrated by a Factory assistant and an outside collaborator.
The overriding issue is the editors’ approach to determining which paintings are included and which are rejected. It’s difficult to figure out their criteria because they play their cards close to the vest. The rub is after they complete their examination of a painting, they refuse to tell you if your work made the cut. The committee’s response is something along the lines of, “You will find out when the appropriate volume is published.”
I’ve often asked myself why is the committee so elusive? It would be reasonable of them to ask for enough time to research a painting before giving a definitive answer. They could also offer the caveat that they reserve the right to change their minds up until the time of publication. But to offer no guidance seems to work against their mission of extending our knowledge of Andy Warhol’s legacy.
I speak from experience. I once received a call from the wife of hockey great Rod Gilbert, who owned an Andy Warhol portrait of her husband. The painting was part of Warhol’s “Athletes” series. It was commissioned by the collector Richard Weisman in 1978. Warhol painted ten famous athletes from a variety of sports, including the tennis player Chris Evert, the boxer Muhammad Ali, and the now-notorious football player O.J. Simpson. The New York Ranger Rod Gilbert was chosen to represent hockey. As part of his compensation, he received one of the 40” x 40” portraits of himself. Now his wife was ready to sell it.
Ms. Gilbert explained her dilemma was that the major auction houses insisted the painting be authenticated before consigning it for sale. Since the Warhol authentication board had disbanded, she contacted the catalogue raisonné committee. They dutifully showed up at her New York apartment, carefully examined the canvas, and took extensive notes. When they finished, they informed Ms. Gilbert that she would learn of their decision when the next volume (1976-1978) was published — whenever that was. Naturally, she was frustrated, complaining that she was essentially back to where she started from.
The nature of catalogue raisonnés is that every single one of them is imperfect; from Picasso’s to Sam Francis’s. A major artist with a productive history has always produced undocumented works: Gifts are given without being recorded. Works are sold early in a career with no idea where they ultimately ended up. Pictures are stolen. Works are not returned from overseas exhibitions. And some paintings simply fall between the cracks.
It would be helpful if the catalogue raisonné editors refined the definition of a genuine Andy Warhol. My personal philosophy is that it all comes down to the artist’s intent. Given the experimental nature of Warhol’s work, they might want to consider opening up the category to include the following:
Paintings created off-premises (not at the studio) with Warhol’s authorization.
Paintings sold from the studio — especially during the 1960s and early 1970s — with no written records.
Paintings taken from the studio without Warhol’s knowledge; a stolen work can still be genuine.
Paintings that were never recorded after they were traded for services (primarily during the 1960s).
If the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which sponsors the Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, would encourage the editors to make the above changes, it would certainly make the book more accurate and give it even more credibility.
Words: Richard Polsky – Artlyst 2018